Waldo L. Semon
In 1926, Waldo Semon, newly employed at The BF Goodrich Company in Akron, Ohio, decided to pursue a dubious project. He began trying to dissolve an undesirable material called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to create an adhesive for bonding rubber to metal. He never succeeded in creating the adhesive, but by heating PVC in a solvent, he discovered a substance that was both flexible and elastic. At first no one knew what to make of it, but decades later PVC has become the world's second-best selling plastic.
Born in Demopolis, Alabama, Semon entered the University of Washington determined to be a chemist. He graduated cum laude in 1920, then received his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1923. After a short period as an instructor at the university, Semon joined BFGoodrich. While research director at BFG, Semon provided the technical leadership for the discovery of three major new families of polymeric materials: thermoplastic polyurethane, synthetic "natural" rubber, and the first oil-resistant synthetic rubbers.
Following his retirement from BFG in 1963, Semon served as a research professor at Kent State University. During his lifetime, Semon was awarded 116 U.S. patents.